State: Don Bosco charter high school misspent $256K

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP - A soon-to-close Kansas City charter high school misspent more than $256,000 in federal money.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the issue is Title I money that is allocated for serving students from low-income families. The money is supposed to be used to supplement instruction, but Don Bosco Charter High School spent it on such things as salaries and benefits for core staff, said Ron Lankford, the state deputy commissioner of education.

"You have to spend the money according to the program guidelines," Lankford said. "There was probably a genuine lack of understanding that we can't do this."

The misspending was discovered during a review conducted after the school announced last month it was closing, partly because enrollment shrunk to 160 students this year, down from 333 in 2007. Lankford said state reviews sometimes uncover problems but that "$250,000 is a pretty big deal. It's bigger than we usually see."

Don Bosco opened more than a decade ago to serve students at risk of dropping out. As a charter school, it receives public funding but is freed from many rules and regulations that bind traditional public schools. However, the charter's board said last month that the school had run at a deficit for several years, and the financial strain had become too great to continue.

Academic performance concerns, including poor scores on state tests, and irregular and low enrollment patterns also were cited in the decision. Only about 125 of Don Bosco's 160 students were showing up on a typical day, and the state's formula for distributing money to schools takes attendance into account.

The school can submit documentation and seek to lower the amount it is accused of misallocating.

Lankford said the school claims it used more than $100,000 of the allegedly misspent money to keep from cutting positions. That is permissible but only if the school's board spelled out its intentions at the time.

The state will withhold money from the school until the matter is resolved, Lankford said.

The school's sponsor, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, said in a written statement that it also has been notified of the problems and will help the education department and the school "in finding a resolution." 

Statement from Nicholas Scielzo, President of Don Bosco Centers:

"The Don Bosco Charter High School received official notice on Tuesday, 5/17 that DESE requested the repayment of $256,000 of Title I funding. The Don Bosco Board will provide our response within DESE's specified timeframe. After our 11 years of working positively with DESE, we are confident we can resolve this matter appropriately."


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